Ministry trains fish farmers for better sales

Kenya's Ministry of Fisheries is to train many of the thousands of farmers it has drawn into fish farming in the breeding of male fish, in order to raise the quality of the meat to levels high enough to be easily marketable in local and international markets.

In 2010, through the economic stimulus programme, the Kenyan government poured some Sh8m into each of 140 constituencies for the digging of 100 fish ponds per constituency. The spend was rooted in assessments of Kenya’s potential to produce fish, on 1.4bn hectares, of up to 11m tonnes of fish a year, worth Sh50 billion.

Fish farm production before the project stood at just 4,220 metric tonnes a year on 772 hectares.

Now more than 800,000 farmers have moved into fish farming, but are now finding it hard to sell their fish due to the quality of the meat. This, together with poor reproduction patterns, has seen the Ministry of Fisheries swing into action to train the farmers. The programme has already trained some 150 farmers at the National Aquaculture Research Development and Training Center in Sagana Kirinyaga county.

“When the fish farming project was rolled out, we never took time to train farmers on the quality of feeds and breeding mechanism to ensure constant supply of high quality fish that produces quality meat. This therefore meant that the farmers were rearing fish the traditional way where they would feed their fish on anything. Farmers have learnt a painful lesson due to this practice,” said Meshack Othieno one of the farmers who has attended the training.

With hundreds of farmers having been turned away by both local and international buyers because the quality of their fish meat was low or the fish were under weight, the training programme is focusing on the production of male fish to be reared alone in a fish pond to boost quality.

According to fish experts leading the training, when fish are mixed in a pond, the male spends most of their time reproducing, while the female spends most of the time laying eggs and protecting the young ones, hence affecting the growth and quality of meat.

Farmers are therefore being advised on the production of male fingerlings and rearing them separately to ensue they pack meat properly and fetch better incomes for the farmers.

The trained farmers are then being mandated to produce certified male fingerlings in their localities and supply them to farmers locally, while training fellow farmers on the same through the farmer field schools. “Production of certified fingerlings should be enforced by the government so as not to frustrate farmers,” said Fisheries Permanent Secretary Prof Micheni Ntiba.

Prof Ntiba said the ministry will also maintain a broad stock of female fish to produce eggs for reproductive purposes.

Many countries that have achieved medium income status in the world relied on fish to drive their economies, said Ntiba. However, the aim of the government is to inject initial funding but then achieve farmers who sustain themselves.

This is a significant challenge, based the lesson of other nations that have initially prospered on fish farming initiatives, but the failed when government pulled out. When Indonesia funded its own expansion in aquaculture in 2004, it managed to increase fish production from 1m tonnes to 7m tonnes today. But when the Indonesian government recently pulled out of the fish farming projects, Indonesian fish farmers are now struggling to maintain the farms, many of which are now falling into disuse.

“All these trainings therefore mean that every farmer who has invested in aquaculture will not be disappointed if we move out and will stand on their own as they earn more from the trade,” said Prof Ntiba.

Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter